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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump accused Democrats of trying to strip health insurance from the vast majority of Americans who have it Thursday, as he rolled out a regulatory proposal aimed at driving down drug prices for domestic consumers.
"Sadly, a majority of Democrats in the House of Representatives have cosponsored a very socialist health care plan that would destroy Medicare, terminate Medicare Advantage and outlaw the employer-sponsored health care plans of 157 million Americans," Trump said in remarks delivered at the Department of Health and Human Services headquarters here, echoing claims he has often made on the campaign trail, and in a widely-criticized op-ed earlier this month.
Trump's latest remarks come just 12 days before a pivotal midterm election in which Republicans are trying to prevent Democrats from winning control of one or both chambers of Congress.
But with elections experts predicting that Republicans are much more likely to hold the Senate than the House, where Democrats need to net a 23-seat gain to take power, Trump has recently transitioned from focusing on Senate Democratic efforts to implement a "Medicare for All" plan to those of their House counterparts.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., has 123 cosponsors — all Democrats — for a bill that would raise a variety of taxes to provide free health insurance to all Americans through a single payer: the federal government. That is, the current health insurance system — a mix of employer-sponsored plans, Medicare, Medicaid and non-group insurance plans — would be replaced by one designed to provide Medicare-like benefits for all Americans at no cost to individuals beyond the taxes used to pay for it.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of the U.S. population is covered by employer-sponsored insurance plans, 19 percent have insurance through Medicaid, 14 percent are covered by Medicare, 7 percent are enrolled in non-group plans, 2 percent receive benefits from other public plans and 9 percent are uninsured.
Trump's political message competed with his announcement of the first step in developing a federal rule aimed at reducing the costs of prescription drugs for U.S. consumers by aligning them more closely with prices pharmaceutical companies charge consumers in foreign countries.
"For decades, other countries have rigged the system so that American patients are charged much more, and in some cases much, much more, for the exact same drug," Trump said. "It’s wrong, it’s unfair."
Professor Walid F. Gellad, director of the Center for Pharmaceutical Policy and Prescribing at at the University of Pittsburgh, said Trump’s “rigged” assessment wasn’t quite accurate: The difference in prices stems from other countries putting in place their own policies to lower the price of drugs for their citizens, rather than charge Americans more for theirs.
“The U.S. could do the same thing, if they wanted,” he said.
However, Gellad said the president’s complaint did reflect concerns that America’s sky-high spending effectively created a system in which the country bears more of the cost of researching and developing new drugs, which then go on to benefit other countries.
The Trump administration rules are intended to be a step in the direction of the U.S. government implementing its own, similar policies to cut drug costs for Americans.
Trump predicted that Democrats, many of whom have decried the imbalance between what Americans and foreign consumers pay for prescription drugs, would would eventually support his plan.
"We think that they’re actually going to come along with us when they see what we’re doing," he said. "We think. We hope. It’s something that makes no sense any other way. So we really think that can be bipartisan."
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., issued a statement criticizing Trump as soon as he finished speaking.
"It's hard to take the Trump administration and Republicans seriously about reducing health care costs for seniors two weeks before the election when they have repeatedly advocated for and implemented policies that strip away protections for people with pre-existing conditions and lead to increased health care costs for millions of Americans," Schumer said, pointing to a separate fight over whether the government should continue to mandate that insurers provide coverage for consumers with pre-existing medical conditions at no extra cost.
Though Trump vowed again Thursday to "always protect Americans with pre-existing conditions," he has supported legislation that would weaken that guarantee, and most Republicans in Congress have voted repeatedly for bills that would entirely repeal the Affordable Care Act in which the pre-existing conditions provisions were embedded.